Has your vision died?
By Tony Brown
Have you ever heard a talk that has had a lasting impact on you, which you have referred to again and again? Many years ago, I heard one such talk entitled ‘Has your vision died?’ It focused on a handful of Biblical characters who had all experienced setbacks in their journey with God.
Each of them had had a clear sense of calling from God to be or do something significant. Yet, a good while on from that initial experience, it seemed as if there was little chance of that calling ever being fulfilled.
Abraham and Sarah were told they would have many descendants who would be a blessing to the rest of the world. Yet over 20 years later they had still not even had one child together.
Moses was told he would be the means by which the Israelites would escape the horrors of slavery in Egypt and be led into a good and spacious land that God would give them. Yet, after escaping from Pharaoh, the people complained about the lack of food and water in the desert and longed to return to Egypt. To make matters worse, while Moses was away having a mountaintop encounter with God, they turned to worshipping idols, just like the Egyptians did. How dispiriting for Moses.
Maybe you, too, have reached a time when what you had hoped for in your journey with God seems more distant and out of reach than when you first started. A cloud of disappointment or even of being let down by God may have set in. Maybe you wonder if you heard correctly from God in the first place.
How do you deal with such thoughts and feelings? There may be an inclination to take matters into your own hands. Like Abraham did when he had a child by Sarah’s maidservant Hagar. But such behaviour, even when done with the positive intent of being pro-active and taking responsibility, all too easily becomes an effort to take back control. It amounts to trying to make happen what God has promised He will do. It sails far too close to the territory of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden.
Another Biblical character who suffered multiple setbacks in his journey with God was Joseph (Genesis 37-50). By the age of 17 he had had two dreams that convinced him God was going to do something profound through him that would cause his older brothers and parents to bow down to him in respect and honour.
Within a short time, the exact opposite happened. His brothers initially plotted to kill him, before eventually opting to sell him into slavery. So much for respect!
But that was not the last of his setbacks. Having gained a favourable reputation in the eyes of his new Egyptian master, Potiphar, that new respect and trust were cruelly snatched away through the deceit and spite of Potiphar’s wife. Joseph ended up in prison, a fate even worse than slavery. How painful it is to be punished for doing the right thing. We may wonder why we bother to follow God’s ways when it leaves us worse off than we were before.
Languishing in prison, Joseph must have wondered how things had got so bad. Where was the respect and honour that God had apparently promised him? There is no indication God gave him any new dreams to reassure him. Instead, Joseph seemed to end up interpreting other people’s dreams (correctly as it turned out).
Eventually, that gift of interpreting dreams brought Joseph to the attention of Pharaoh and, through a display of wise planning, he was put in charge of ‘the whole land of Egypt’. Pharaoh presented him with a robe more splendid even than the coat of many colours his father had given him. And Egyptians were commanded to “bow the knee” before him as his teenage dream had once shown his brothers doing. How things had changed! But it had taken many, many years.
And still the promise of the respect and honour of his brothers was unfulfilled. How easy it would have been at this point for Joseph to turn his back on his roots and on the dreams God had given him – to give up on God and follow Egyptian ways.
Yet when, finally, his brothers ended up in Egypt, Joseph made a remarkable declaration. He told them ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good’. This, after all the setbacks, all the shame and dishonour Joseph had suffered following his brothers’ betrayal. Somehow, through it all, Joseph had clung on to those original dreams and to a belief and trust in the goodness and faithfulness of the God who gave them.
I guess there are two reasons ‘Has your vision died?’ has stuck with me for so long.
One is that the talk resonated with my own experience at that time. Not long before, I had discovered that the job I believed God had led me into was not going to work out the way I had imagined. It felt as if I had an impossible choice; either ignore God’s call and leave the job or obey that call and surrender my hopes and dreams of what it would be. After a lot of soul searching and prayer, I finally accepted the latter. Today, 37 years on, I can honestly say I have never regretted that decision, even though I’ve met further setbacks along the way.
The other reason the talk has stuck with me, is that I’ve found it echoes other people’s experience too. Many of us, it seems, have had setbacks in our journey with God. But, again and again, people have told me how the setback caused them cry out for God’s help in trusting Him and His promises.
It has been a powerful reminder to me not to try and take back control when things don’t seem to be working out. It has driven me to reach out to God and trust that He knows best, even when that best means going through hardships and disappointment. It has enriched my understanding of the character and purposes of God. And after each setback the vision has been reborn.